Special Spaces Embrace Mothers and Babies in a Minnesota Hospital Project

United Hospital, HDR

The birth of a child should be a blissful occasion, but it is also a tumultuous time. The right surroundings can help set new mothers at ease, which becomes increasingly important if medical issues arise. At United Hospital in St. Paul, Minn., however, there was a divide between its former 42-bed birthing center and its 50-bed neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)—both in ambience and in operations. Each facility was managed by a different entity: Allina Health ran the labor and delivery center, and Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota was responsible for the NICU.

Flowering trees engender a sense of beauty and comfort in United Hospital’s Mother Baby Center and define entrances into patient rooms.

Flowering trees engender a sense of beauty and comfort in United Hospital’s Mother Baby Center and define entrances into patient rooms.

Recognizing the need for a more cohesive patient experience in their service locations, the two systems partnered to form a joint venture that affected Mother Baby Centers and associated NICUs at three different facilities in the Twin Cities region. While the other two locations utilized new construction to cultivate a stronger cross-service identity, the United Hospital project retrofitted its existing facilities. The partnership’s motto is, “Great place to have a baby. Great place to be a baby.”

“This new service line brings the care for mothers and their babies closer together,” asserts Julie Robertson, interior design practice leader in HDR’s Minneapolis office, who led the charge for the United Hospital project.“People will spend a great deal of time here healing, grieving and in joy, and we wanted to create spaces that support them through all these emotions.”

NEW CONNECTIONS

Creating a more modern, welcoming atmosphere and a stronger sense of connection between the Mother Baby Center and the NICU at United Hospital were primary goals. When the NICU was built in the 1990s, it was one of the first facilities of its kind to offer all private rooms. During the renovation, HDR refreshed the NICU’s outdated rooms and reconfigured the ward’s entry sequence.

In the original Mother Baby Center, 90 percent of the rooms were a meager 141 square feet with labor, birth and recovery all occurring in the tiny space. “Accommodating updated equipment, medical gas systems and proper lighting all within single labor/delivery/postpartum rooms would have required building out a larger space, which was cost prohibitive,” Robertson explains. “Our solution was to utilize adjacent areas.”

The Mother Baby Center now encompasses 96,000 square feet, using a new care model that provides various services in distinct areas. The existing space became a dedicated post- partum area. A nearby administration area was turned into the antepartum (before birth) wing. Designers tucked the labor and delivery department into a vacant shelled-out space that HDR purposefully created in a new adjacent building several years ago in anticipation of this expansion. Families can access each department from the existing parking garage and enter the NICU across the hall from the renovated Mother Baby Center.

TOP CAPACITY

Julie Robertson, interior design practice leader in HDR’s Minneapolis office, worked with an artist to bring whimsy into the NICU, using playful creatures (a fish, bird, bunny and ladybug) as wayfinding elements.

Julie Robertson, interior design practice leader in HDR’s Minneapolis office, worked with an artist to bring whimsy into the NICU, using playful creatures (a fish, bird, bunny and ladybug) as wayfinding elements.


Trying to keep the labor and delivery area operational at maximum capacity was the project’s biggest challenge. The plan gutted the former space, and build-out took place in three phases. During the intense internal construction, the contractor created a rigorous plan of partitions to minimize disruptions and retooled the mechanical systems’ air intake and outflow to eliminate dust.

Robertson discovered that flexibility was imperative. “We ran into unforeseen mechanical, structural and electrical conditions that couldn’t be changed,” she says. “In order to accommodate these, we had to lower the postpartum ceiling by 4 inches. The only way to ensure the spaces still met the client’s vision was to maintain an open collaboration between the contractor, subcontractors and our design team.”

The labor and delivery department now features 11 generously sized, 350-square-foot rooms, thanks to the project team’s thoughtful approach to space planning. The postpartum recovery area contains 30 rooms of 235 square feet each, and the antepartum area has nine 250-square-foot rooms.

PHOTOS: courtesy of HDR, ©2017 Corey Gaffer

About the Author

KJ Fields
KJ Fields writes about design, sustainability and health from Portland, Ore.

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